Pirates' season comes to an end with 6-1 loss at East Grand Forks
EAST GRAND FORKS — The result had been a foregone conclusion since well before the final horn sounded.
So when the Crookston girls' soccer team gathered on the field for one last postgame hug, there were tears, yes, but also laughter and bittersweet smiles.
With the score lopsided all night, it wasn't an ending of pure, final-seconds heartbreak. In that moment, it was clear that the Pirates were able to process their season ending, and felt secure they had done all they could to postpone it.
It just wasn't enough Tuesday night, as No. 1 seed East Grand Forks knocked No. 8 seed Crookston out of the Section 8A Tournament with a scintillating performance in a 6-1 win, the Green Wave's third over the Pirates this season.
"We told them that we were extremely proud of them this year," said Crookston coach Sarah Reese. "They played all 80 minutes, and they worked hard and worked together."
East Grand Forks (9-2-1) wasted no time asserting its top-seed bonafides. Grace Kronlund scored five minutes into the game on a rocket from 20 yards out, and four minutes after that, delivered a corner kick for Macie Stanislawski to put home.
But out of nowhere came a Pirate response. In the 12th minute, junior Olivia Huck took a direct free kick from 35 yards out, her shot ricocheting off the right post. It bounced back in front of goal, and senior striker Kenze Epema was first to the ball, tapping it in to cut the deficit in half.
"When there's quick scoring, that can create a mental opportunity, where you're either gonna sit in or take it or you're gonna rise above," Reese said. "... That really showed that we were in the game."
While Epema's goal gave Crookston (4-8) a quick boost of energy, the Green Wave snuffed that momentum out in the 27th minute on a long shot by Brooklyn Sayler. Even more backbreaking, though, was a Mya Langerud goal off a perfectly-placed Jill Frost cross, coming with just 30 seconds left in the half.
East Grand Forks came out of halftime still firing. Kara Ellis' missile over the head of goalkeeper Reese Swanson made it 5-1 in the 45th minute. While the Pirates held steady on defense for the next half-hour, Kronlund closed out the game the way she began it, scoring with six minutes to play.
The Pirates were sharp in possession, in Reese's view, putting together stretches of three and four passes with more frequency than in prior contests.
"It was a mindset that we can play with highly competitive teams," Reese said. "It was a mindset that we have to control ourselves and our space, and good things will happen."
Notable as well was the play of Swanson, who had a "fantastic" game despite allowing six goals. The freshman commanded her line with authority, rushing off it to cover up and clear several dangerous balls throughout the night, and finished with 15 saves.
"She had a great game but a fantastic second half," Reese said. "When she made a commitment to a ball, she made a commitment, and really created that atmosphere that she was taking control."
Bigger-picture, Swanson's performance symbolized Crookston's overall.
She made no glaring errors, no blunders for the Green Wave to take advantage of. They simply did what they wanted, which was score from long range: Kronlund and Ellis' goals were pinpoint, leaving Swanson with no chance, and she made the initial stop on Langerud's goal but couldn't come up with the rebound.
But right up until the end, every time Swanson raced off her line to make a save, her effort belying the score.
"We didn't give up," Reese said. "At the end of every game, I want the girls to come off and say we left it all out here and however it ends, it ends. I think that they can safely say that they did that."
UP NEXT: The Green Wave host No. 4 seed Bemidji Thursday in the quarterfinals. The Lumberjacks routed No. 5 seed Hillcrest Lutheran, 8-0, in their first-round game Tuesday.
Crookston's four wins this season equals its total from last season. This year, though, it needed six fewer games to do it — making 2020 its most successful season, by record, since 2014.
"We were wishful that we would have had more games," Reese said. "We ... could have been very competitive with some of the other teams that we traditionally play. Next year, we're looking to get more wins and find those wins in a way that's done with a lot of team effort."
But wins and losses aren't what sticks out most to Reese.
"I will certainly remember the girls," Reese said. "They have a great personality, they are super fun to be around, and it's been an absolute privilege and joy to coach them and spend time with them teaching them about the game of soccer."
Tuesday's loss was the last game for three Pirate seniors: Epema, Danielle Haake and Joslynn Leach.
"We appreciate the leadership and sportsmanship that our seniors brought to our team," Reese said. "They were definitely great role models on the field and off the field, and they have been wonderful to lead our team this year. As they exit, we're gonna be excited to see what the next group of students bring. We're hoping that this is a stepping stone to more success."
- 5:00: Grace Kronlund (EGF)
- 9:07: Macie Stanislawski (EGF) assist Grace Kronlund
- 11:26: Kenze Epema (Crookston) assist Olivia Huck
- 26:32: Brooklyn Sayler (EGF)
- 39:30: Mya Langerud (EGF) assist Jill Frost
- 44:22: Kara Ellis (EGF)
- 73:13: Grace Kronlund (EGF)
- Crookston: Reese Swanson 15 saves (6 first half, 9 second)
- East Grand Forks: Kadynn Melquist 4 saves (2 first half, 2 second)
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